Monday, June 6, 2011


I made this. (with help)

It should be clear by now that I think movies are pretty important. I'll admit that my advocacy can be a bit rabid, but there's a reason for that.

Let's talk about the letter G. A 'G' in the MPAA rating system stands for "General Audiences." General audiences. That's an interesting phrase. I think it means "most of everybody."

I'm not interested in the 'G' rating, per se, but I am interested in the concept of a general audience, because it represents the status quo. The blockbuster crowd, if you will. These are the people, comprised of almost everyone, that determine the social value of cinema. I speak mainly of Western culture, and that for two reasons: 1) it's the one with which I am most familiar, and 2) it produces the vast majority of the world's most watched films.

I'm interested, deeply, uncomfortably and always, in the way movies are perceived by "general" audiences. What is the popular opinion? It's not the only opinion that matters, but it is certainly the one which will most heavily influence the shape of film to come. It is the one that drives the medium's economy. It dictates what gets made and seen by the greatest number of people.

And the popular opinion is that movies are, at their core, little more than diversion. They are the G audience's favorite pastime. They provide an escape from the harsh realities of life, and an alternative to the cold disappointments of mediocrity and tedium. If a movie isn't fun, it isn't worth it. If it doesn't make you feel good, it's bad.

Would anyone ever dare say such asinine things about music? Painting? Sculpture? Do people even say that about sports, which are themselves by definition a form of recreation, first and fundamentally?

But this is the G opinion. How it got there is a topic of discussion much to large to be tackled here, so instead I'll ask a simple question: Can it be changed?

I say yes. Not because I'm an optimist by nature, but because I believe that the relationship we have with film, as a general audience, is unsustainable. Michael Bay's explosions are experiencing diminishing returns. Ever bigger bangs draw increasingly smaller crowds.

But it's not something that will just fix itself. You're probably reading this blog because you feel the way I do. Movies are important. Film is an essential and wondrous language, and should be put to much better use by all of us. So I propose, for you and for me, a straight-forward challenge:

Watch better films, and watch them more than once. Watch them searchingly, actively, and talk about them more often and more deeply. Never let anyone get away with tossing off the false, destructive idea that movies aren't meant for more than a tub of popcorn.


  1. What's all the more fascinating regarding "general audiences" is that there are rarely any movies which are given actual "G" ratings these days. I just checked the list of movies which are now playing, and even Kung Fu Panda 2 is PG. It seems like only the cartoon Disney movies get a G rating anymore. The general audience the film industry wants to appeal to seems to be PG or PG-13 these days. And that just goes to prove what you've been saying about the industry. It means the social value of cinema is determined by the amount of language, drugs, violence, and/or sexual content a movie can incorporate without seeming "uncool" to people who want to pay to live behind the fourth wall of someone's performance for a few hours. And while movies do need to be "fun" to generate revenue, I feel like the ones that fare the best are the ones that aim beyond the bottom line and attempt to make the audience think and wonder more about its characters. Those are the movies I can never forget (such as Inception). Too many movies have the potential to take the audience somewhere new and thought provoking, but don't because they know they can make a killing of a final few action sequences or so. Those are the movies that don't stick in my memory.

    People don't seem to appreciate film as an art form these days. It's been mass produced to sell to human kind's basest senses for the most part. While it may not be as appreciated as music or artwork (paintings, sculptures, architecture, etc.), more people choose to enjoy film. While the audience is less critical and thoughtful regarding the product they are consuming, film is the form that seems to receive the largest audience. That is a blessing and a curse. And even those who don't like sports all watch movies time and time again in their lives. Film has the greatest potential to affect the largest audience. However, it has a major obstacle to overcome in its generic mass production and consumption. People need to move beyond the appeal to the base senses in order to think more critically about the things they see on screen.

    So yeah...It's late. And I'm ranting. I hope this makes sense!

  2. What I cannot believe is that there's still any debate going on whether or not our lives are influenced significantly by movies--YES, there's still a debate, or so my Mass Media class at Hood College in Maryland informed me. The only question is, to what degree? Since we are, physically, what we eat (oh heaven help me), are we not also a product of all we see, listen to and read?


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